The Flying Cloud, R505 - Season Four

Episode 272: Speculation

The Mysterious Cruiser

Captain Everett opened the ship's log, then paused. What should he write? So much of their information was mere supposition, and some, such as their suspicions regarding Phelps's allegiances, could not safely be put to paper. But it was important to keep some record of the situation, however oblique this might be, in case they needed it to justify their actions. After some thought, he picked up his pen.

May 26, 1927, 0900 hrs. Lat 2 36' S, Long 141 47' E. Called at Bougainville's air station yesterday as per orders. Its personnel were quite helpful, and their superior is to be commended for his foresight in preparing for what must have been an unexpected visit. We lifted ship at 0700 hours to continue our investigation of the movements of the Shiratori Maru.

He studied the entry, wondering if he should add more, then closed the book and set it aside. This would have to do. A short time later, he was descending the ladder to the control car.

As always, the atmosphere in the compartment was one of unruffled calm. The starboard watch were at their stations, managing the ship with quiet efficiency. To the south, the long dark mass of Latangai island was a shadow on the horizon. To the west, New Hanover bore no resemblance whatsoever to its Prussian namesake. To the north, the waters of the Pacific were dotted with shipping. "Captain on the bridge," someone announced.

"As you were," said Everett. "Mister MacKiernan, has anything of note happened during your watch?"

"Not in particular," said the Exec. "We spotted a Dutch patrol boat off Nabuto Bay. She was the Canopus, one of their Bellatrix class. Goodness knows what she was doing in German New Guinea. We've seen a number of island freighters -- we've done our best to keep an account of the ones that had legible names in recognizable languages. We also passed a Japanese airship bound for the Solomons. She was a regularly-scheduled commercial flight, so I saw no need to disturb you."

"I trust your judgment," said Everett. "Jenkins, what have you heard on the wireless?"

"Most of the traffic has been routine," said the signalman, "but an hour ago I detected a brief transmission in code from a station behind us. I imagine this was someone in Bougainville reporting our departure."

"We would expect the Fat Man's agents to keep their master informed," Everett observed. "We shall strive not to disappoint them. According to the information they fed us, the Shiratori Maru's previous port of call was Pampanga Air Station in the Philippines. We will proceed there and see what we find."

"That's rather far afield," MacKiernan observed. "Do you think they could be trying draw us off some scent?"

"That seems unlikely," said Everett. "They've been going out of their way to interest us in this vessel. They must have some reason for this. The conversation Pierre overheard suggested that the nationalists are on the outs with some previous ally. They might be sending us to engage this enemy under the theory that whichever side looses, they win."

"You think their hypothetical enemy has some connection with Japan?"

"I imagine we've all suspected as much," said Everett. "I doubt the government is involved, but there is no reason why their country couldn't have a nationalist faction too. We've encountered plenty of evidence to this effect. There have been these 'tourists' with their demonstrated interest in defensive installations, there was the behavior of the navigation officer on the Shiratori Maru, and finally there is this ship." He reached out to give one of the Flying Cloud's girders an affectionate pat. "We took her from the Fat Man's people, but she can hardly be a German product. She's quite obviously a copy of an English design, and her workmanship resembles that of the Japanese packet. One wonders if she was built by these hypothetical Japanese nationalists, who sold her to the Germans before the two groups had their falling out."

"This raises the question of the mysterious cruiser," Jenkins observed. "Do you believe she was constructed by the same yard?"

"That would be my suspicion," said Everett. "She resembled an American design, and these people have shown a talent for imitation. They might well have copied the plans from Goodyear. But I can't imagine where that yard could be. It's difficult to see how they could keep such a thing hidden in Japan. The country is not all that large, and there would be plenty of evidence in the form of shipments of material, rail movements, and the like."

"Perhaps it's in some territory under military control," suggested MacKiernan.

"There aren't too many candidates," said Jenkins. "Japan hasn't indulged in many foreign adventures. The only real possibility would be Korea."

They glanced aft toward crew section and their uninvited guest.

"That," observed Everett, "is food for thought."

Murdock was in the mess hall, studying Burgess's monumental book on aviation, when Pierre arrived with the Korean in tow. The Frenchman bowed, took the woman's hand, and raised it to his lips for a kiss. "Adieu, mademoiselle," he announced gallantly. "I cannot tell you how much I have enjoyed the opportunity to be your escort. Now I must take my leave. Monsieur Murdock will assume the duties of host."

Murdock watched Pierre go, then turned to see Kim gazing at her wrist with a perplexed expression. She glanced at him, reddened, then gestured toward the volume on the table before him.

"What book you reading?" she asked,

By now Murdock had some experience with the woman's unique interpretation of English grammar. Articles were notable by their absence, prepositions seemed to be struggling to bear some heavy load, and verbs tended to occur at the end of a sentence, with tenses chosen almost at random. He wondered if this reflected some characteristics of her native language.

"It Burgess's Airship Design."

"Why..." she wrinkled her brow, as if struggling to formulate a phrase, "why you studying?"

"I'm a junior officer in the Royal Navy Airship Service," he told her. "To advance through the ranks, I must pass a series of examinations."

This explanation seemed to strike some chord. The woman's face softened, as if in sympathy. "I understanding," she said. "My country also examinations for advancing. Where this airship madeded?"

It took him a moment to decipher that last word. Unprepared for the question, he saw no reason to prevaricate. "We don't know," he admitted.

Her expression suggested disbelief. "You how not knowing?" she demanded.

"I wasn't with the crew when it happened," said Murdock, "but I understand that Captain Everett found her on an island to the south. I believe she was being used by German arms smugglers."

Some indecipherable flicker of emotion passed across her face. "Where are Germans getteded ship?" she asked.

"Apparently from some ally," said Murdock. "We don't know who."

The woman fell silent, but Murdock got the impression his news was unexpected. What was that about? he wondered.

Next week: Good Enough For Now...

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